Pindar Vineyards: Special Day for Locals

March 31, 2023

The day was gray and chilly, but we had a good time anyway.

Pindar is proud of being one of the early vineyards on the North Fork, with their vines planted over 40 years ago.  I came by this bit of knowledge on a free tour and tasting at Pindar, part of an effort by a number of vineyards to attract locals to come and taste their wines.  Friends of ours had noted this program and invited us to join them at Pindar, whose perks seemed the best (other places offered such bargains to locals as ten percent off bottles or two for one).  Good move! We had a good time, learned a lot, and got to taste some wines we then bought and took home.

Nancy is showing us a gewurztraminer vine, one of the original ones planted at Pindar. The roots can go very deep.

Nancy, our tour guide, started us off by the vines, and then took us through all the steps of making wine, from the crush pad to the stainless steel tanks to the French oak barrels to the warehouse, and then back to the tasting room where we got to try five wines.

“Viticulture is farming for masochists,” she informed us, as she explained the work involved in pruning the vines, which she characterized as “an art and a science,” and the perils faced by grape growers.  There are migrating birds who will peck at the grapes, so they look fine but then shrivel into nothing; there are hurricanes on Long Island, whose arrival coincides with harvest season; and there is the lack of crop insurance, because how can you insure for their current value vines that have been growing for over 40 years.  In addition, you have to wait four years after you plant those vines before you can expect to harvest the grapes. The issue of birds has been taken care of, through an ingenious system of nets, which you can see in many vineyards, which remain furled up below the vines and are then raised when the grapes ripen.  As to the other issues…not much one can do about them!

Despite these problems, Pindar has 325 acres of vines, resulting in 60 to 70,000 cases of wine every year.  At first, Dr. Dan Damianos, the visionary who started Pindar (named, like one of his sons, for the classic Greek poet, in homage to their Greek heritage), planted gewürztraminer grapes, judging that the climate and soil would work well for this varietal.  Now they grow twenty-four varietals, and they list twenty-nine different wines on their tasting menu, which includes a number of blends.

The bottling machine, which is about to be replaced by an even better one.

They bottle these wines with their own bottling line, which can do 3,000 a day.  Not every winery has their own bottling facility, with many using Premium Wine Group for this.  Nancy gave a brief lecture on the issue of corks vs. screw caps, with corks reading as “better” wines, and screw caps okay for more casual, cheaper wines. Screw caps work just fine, though corks have the advantage of being biodegradable.

I never knew why the vats have this dimpled jacket.

We then walked into a huge room filled with vast stainless steel vats, where Nancy explained something I’d always wondered about.  The vats are partially encases in a dimpled steel jacket.  It is a glycol jacket, containing polyglycol, used to help regulate the temperature in the vats, and the dimples keep the polyglycol from settling to the bottom.  Too hot or too cold, and the wine is ruined.  They use a windmill to provide about 60% of the energy needed in the warehouse and wine “cellar”—not a cellar, because…polyglycol.  We also learned about another hazard of viticulture—carbon dioxide.  As the juice ferments into wine, carbon dioxide rises to the top of the tanks, where the solid matter must be pushed down into the liquid.  Catwalks provide access to the tops of the tanks, and open doors help dissipate the CO2.

Part of the filtration system.

She showed us their filtration system, and we learned, by the way, that Guinness Stout used isinglass, obtained from the bladders of sturgeon, to filter their brew.  I like Guinness, but I also like caviar!

She also took us outside to see the crush pad, where a machine crushes the grapes. Because Pindar is so big, a lot of the work is done by machines.

The crush pad.

The huge space where red wine ages in French oak barrels smelled enticingly like a forest or lumberyard.  We found out that there are different tastes imparted to wines by French and American oak, with some adding notes of vanilla and others cinnamon, etc.  Pindar now uses only French oak, buying 300 barrels a year, and has phased out their American oak barrels, which they sometimes sell to breweries or to people who want to use them in their gardens.  We also learn about the “angel’s share,” the wine which evaporates from the barrels, meaning they need to be constantly watched and topped up, so that too much oxygen doesn’t turn the wine into vinegar.  The angels must reserve a special place in heaven for wine makers!

Despite the bung stopper, some evaporation is unavoidable.

Finally, our last stop before the tasting room, we saw the warehouse where cases of wine are stacked high.  Nancy held up a four-pack of cans of Winter White, and explained that Dr. Dan, noting the American taste for soda and other sweet drinks, decided to make some sweeter wines, like Winter White, which is the most popular white on Long Island.  More recently, the decision was made to offer it in cans; again, to attract those who might otherwise opt for soda or beer.

Cans of Winter White, ready to go.

Now it was time to taste the fruits of their labor!  The group of about thirty locals lined up around the bar, where glasses stood ready.  Here are my tasting notes:

Nice sized pour.
  •  2020 Dr. Dan’s Selection White Blend      $24.99

Our first taste is a blend of, this vintage, of 53% viognier, plus pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and riesling.  The percentages may vary year to year.  This is a very drinkable white, with aromas of pineapple and citrus, and tropical fruit flavors like guava and pineapple.

  • 2021 Dr. Dan’s Selection Gewürztraminer               $24.99

We are quite interested to taste this, after learning the history of the vines, and we quite like it.  In fact, we and our friends each buy a bottle to take home.  It is not too sweet, which can happen with gewürztraminers, with an aroma of peaches and tastes that include tangerine and apricot.  “Yummy,” we and our friends agree.

At the tasting, I turned over my menu to see the events list.
  • 2019 Mythology                $42.99

A Bordeaux blend called Meritage, this includes malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc.  Delicious.  Lots of dark fruit taste and enough tannins that one could probably age it.

  • 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve            $34.99

Nancy, who is still informing us about the wines, explains that cabernet sauvignon used to be harder to grow on Long Island, since it needs a longer growing season to mature.  However, with climate change, the growing season on Long Island has gotten longer.  I guess that’s an upside to global warming! This is another very good red, with tastes of blackberry and other fruits, and an aroma of cedar and tobacco.

Pindar Damianos chatting with a guest.
  • 2015 Cabernet Port         $28.99 for 750 ml, $16.99 for 375 ml

I’m not sure if this was in the original tasting or if it was included after our friend shared his enthusiasm for the port with Nancy and with Pindar Damianos, who was hanging around and talking to the guests.  He discovered that Pindar makes award-winning port in an old issue of a wine magazine shortly after moving to the North Fork, and was happily buying and drinking it.  I can see why.  This is a dessert wine—in English novels, they are always sipping it after dinner while they crack walnuts and chat—but it is not too sweet, with an appealing depth of flavor.  It is made 100% from cabernet franc.  We each buy a bottle to take home.

Cases filled with awards Pindar wines have won.

Reasons to visit:  roomy tasting room with two outside areas; a wide variety of wines for every taste, from sweet to dry, and price, from $14.99 (Winter White and others) to $42.99; all the wines we tasted—White Blend, Gewürztraminer, Mythology, and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve—plus the port; our friends had also tasted the Gamay Noir before we went on the tour, and bought a bottle of that light red to take home; they have a refrigerated case full of cheeses, etc., to consume there; they have a variety of special events.

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